It’s Time for Wine: Napa Valley Barrel Auction

The Napa Auction Showcases Vintages 2011 and 2012

By Monty and Sara Preiser

We love the annual Napa Valley Barrel Auction, where 100 of the best wineries in the Valley have their best barrels of unreleased wines trucked to a common spot for tasting and subsequent bidding. This year the event was held on the grounds of Raymond Vineyards, and a perfect place it was – large enough (and flat enough) to accommodate both the barrel room, which needs to be indoors and cool, as well as the surrounding “Market Place,” where scores of wineries pour their current releases and dozens of restaurants show off their cuisine in the gorgeous Napa sunshine.

Auction Napa ValleyAbout 50% of the vintners brought their best work from 2011, while the other half chose to pour their 2010 or 2012 vintages. As you probably know by now, due to inordinately cool weather the 2011 harvest was difficult, and has led many writers to disparage the entire vintage. You have also heard, no doubt, that 2012 was, according not just to writers but winemakers, a perfect harvest – perhaps the best in decades.

With the above as the backdrop, we found the tasting and information gathering this year even more interesting than usual. By the way, we happily note that those wineries participating were, on this day, almost universally represented by the owners or winemakers – quite often both. Unhappily, time (and our well known schmoozing) would not allow us to sample all 100 wines – only about 80.

2011

Unlike award shows, we won’t wait until the end to announce the “Best Film” or “Best Musical.” We’ll begin by telling you that many 2011 wines were absolutely stunning, especially those from Beringer, Blackbird, Crocker & Starr, Darioush, Far Niente, Frank Family, John Anthony, Kongsgaard, Oakville East, Pride Mountain, Realm, Red Mare, and Vineyard 7 & 8. Strong tannins are clearly a hallmark of this vintage, and those wineries that had access to quality fruit that can stand up to the tannins are the ones that will put superb wine in the bottle, but only IF they were smart enough, and able, to pick late enough in the harvest season so sufficient ripening could occur.

Napa ValleyWhen you look at the wineries we enumerated above, you will see a common thread. They all boast great pedigrees, highly trained personnel, wonderful fruit sources, and intuitive winemakers of note. This is what allowed what we sampled to be so good. Conversely, there were some 2011s that were certainly not ready for prime time, and we suspect there will be many like wines throughout the Napa Valley, as smaller and less successful wineries did not participate in the barrel pouring and often will not have been able to cope with the problematic weather.

We had already been told that a number of winemakers were adding a touch of 2012 fruit to the 2011 to buck it up a little (it is legal to have 5% from another year and still call a wine “vintage”). We put the question to many winemakers, and the answers and attitudes were astonishingly different. Some unabashedly said that they absolutely did so, and the addition helped greatly. Others said they certainly experimented with supplementing, but felt the differences were not too great or that the small amount of 2012 was not really affective. Then again, others were taken aback and said they would never do so, and were surprised anyone would. We guess that if one needs proof that winemaking is an individual art, here it is.

2012

Every writer we know has been salivating to start sampling the 2012 vintage en masse, which has been aging for about 8 months now. While we think it is still too early to say it may be the best California vintage of our wine-writing years, we were certainly not disappointed.

Literally everything one looks for in a fine wine could be discovered in most of the 2012s. Lush fruit, complexity, strong but supple structure, lingering finish, and identifiable layers converged to make a formidable showing out of the gate. Our personal top selections came from Acacia, Artesa, Continuum, Dancing Hares, HALL, Nickel & Nickel, and Rombauer (to be clear, wineries only pour one vintage so none of those mentioned above for 2011 had a 2012 to compare). It seems 2012 is one of those rare years that a winery has to be truly poor in skill to make a bad product.

Interestingly, a number of the vintners or winemakers that chose to bring the 2012 were clear that they did not think their 2011 vintage was good enough for this day. As writers who have long been critical of wineries that harvest everything, and then tell the public how good it is (true or not), the candor of these representatives was most appreciated. To be clear once again, this does NOT mean that those wineries featuring the 2011 vintage were pouring inferior wines. We have already mentioned how superb many were. Our intent here is only to show that the best wineries make the best decisions for the public. If you made a great 2011, you showed it off. If yours was not so good, you passed on it and moved to something else. Either direction chosen features the ethics of the industry and reflects why Napa wines are probably the best in the world.

Conclusion

What a day it was. For those who have not attended a Napa Valley Barrel Auction, watch for the announcement early next year as to how and when you can purchase admission. There is no better time to be in Napa. The hotels and tickets sell out quickly, so plan early. And to the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which sponsored the event, as it does every year: “Great job!”

For more information on the 2013 Auction Napa Valley visit auctionnapavalley.org.

First image from Auction Napa Valley’s website

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It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com. Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley and Sonoma, the most comprehensive guides to wineries and restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

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